With comforting croons that erupt into gripping three-part harmonies, JOSEPH’s music is riddled with themes of victory and defeat alike. In the vulnerability of their lyricism, the heart of the listener is reflected in all its unburdened glory. Hailing from Portland, Oregon, the sister trio’s sound is as majestic as the landscapes they’ve grown up in, and they’re sharing it far and wide with upcoming performances in practically every major music festival this year. We discussed Joseph‘s creative maturation, the collaborative writing process, and the foot-stomp-inducing resoluteness they’ve found by giving in to pure honesty. // NC: Natalie Closner, AC: Allison Closner, MC: Meegan Closner.
For those of us who are new to your work, can you tell us a little bit about yourselves and how you got started in music?
NC – Allie, Meegan and I are sisters from Portland, Oregon and for the last four years we’ve been writing and performing self-disclosing, inner-dialogue, sometimes pep-talky music with our voices as the primary instrument. I, Natalie, have been fascinated with songwriting since high school and have been studying it since. I worked solo for awhile until a friend pointed out that what I was making didn’t seem sincere – like I was just copying something I’d heard and hoping people liked it. He asked me “What would it take to be compelled by your own music?” That was when I had the idea to invite Meeg and Al to join me.
How has making music together impacted your dynamic as sisters and vice versa?
NC – We’re friends now! We’re four years apart in age so we weren’t super close growing up. Now we’ve been through so much, bright and dark, thick and thin. The music and all the “Is-this-real-life?” experiences have given us something to talk about when we’re grannies sitting at a bingo table someday. Being family brings a rawness to the music – it keeps you honest. You can’t pretend to be anything that you’re not when the people standing beside you know what you were like when you were 12. You can’t write any songs that make you look cool.
What is the collaborative writing process like?
NC – Terrifying. *grins* It’s a lot of listening and being quiet at first. It’s a lot like therapy, peeling back layers to find the truth. For us specifically, it usually starts with an idea, be it a snippet of a melody or a lyric (or for Allie, a shade of a color), then exploring it.
You’re from Oregon — how does living there influence your creative process? What is your favorite part about the Pacific Northwest?
NC – All the deep greens and foggy gray landscapes have a mood about them, don’t they? There’s a majesty to it. The PNW has a grand, regal feeling while also being so untamed and barefoot and wild. I think that draws a dreamer in.
Your music has obvious themes of honesty and unabashed sentiment. What personal beliefs, values, and experiences inform your lyricism?
NC – The power of vulnerability. The necessity of “Me too.” Seeing it for what it is. Hoping for what it can be. Mourning what it isn’t. Relinquishing control. Rolling up your sleeves for the hard work you have to do. Since Meeg and Al didn’t study songwriting they are very fresh faced and plain speaking about it. I’m better for that. I’m always trying to write like the enigmatic girl drinking alone in the corner, or the person with all the answers… but it doesn’t work. Whenever I present a grandiose metaphor I’m quickly brought back down to earth by Meegan, Allie, or our other primary collaborator Andrew Stonestreet. Once he told me, “I don’t want you to talk to me like you’re the all-knowing deity telling me I’ll be okay. I want to hear what hurts.” I guess what I mean is that we write with the belief that what’s inside has to get out.
How has your music and vision matured and grown from your debut album to your most recent work?
NC – We let more people in on the process of making it. I think that’s given it broader perspectives, bigger dynamics. We also let ourselves give in to our pop appreciation.
What is your favorite song that you have written? Why?
NC – Eek! It changes all the time. Right now it’s “Sweet Dreams.” We always play it last and the energy reaches a fever when we get to the bridge. When the band drops out and it’s just Meeg and Allie wailing “Sweeeet dreeeeams, my love I love you,” that tension grips my whole body. Then it erupts when the band comes back in on “Goooodnight.” The evening ends on a chaotic unfinished note, because we don’t want the show to feel like everything’s tied up in a nice bow, like we have all the answers. It’s a “we’re in this together” for everyone going back into the fight of life.
I asked Meegan and Allie which are their favorites and here’s what they said:
MC – “Hundred Ways” makes me feel the conflict between what’s right and wrong and the grey and I get to belt about it. I feel the tension. Sometimes it’s quiet and sometimes it’s loud. Sometimes it’s just your own voice and sometimes it’s a lot of voices. It has a lot of grit.
AC – I think I’m gonna say right now that “Blood & Tears” is my favorite song. We changed up how we perform it and I love performing it! It’s so jivey and I love the harmonies I get to sing on it. I didn’t really connect with that song initially but since living with it for awhile now, getting to know it, letting it be a part of me… geez, I like it. I love the line, “I only want the fight to be with you.” I didn’t write that line, that’s why I feel like I can say that. Haha. Even if I did write it though I guess I’d say, “Hell yes! Proud of that!” Ha! Relationships are hard. You have to work really hard to know a person and keep wanting to be around them. It’s so easy to just give up on people, but I love the idea of a love so deep that that’s the person you want to have fights with. Because that’s inevitable. And you still choose them.
I’ve been to a Joseph show, and your live experience has an undeniable sense of communal emotion. How do you hope to connect with the audience during live performances?
NC – You know, I have to say that these more recent tours have been amazing, humbling. A lot of people coming to the shows already know the songs and have made them their own… they sing along. When that happens I realize it’s not ours anymore. Our hope when someone comes to a show is that they would see something in themselves and have an experience with it. That they would be present with it. Maybe they’re sad. Maybe they’re resolute and triumphant. Maybe they’re confused or lonely or feel like quitting. Whatever they carried in with them, I hope they’ve let themselves look at it, feel what it’s like to hold it.
You are booked for practically every major music festival — Coachella, Lollapalooza, Outside Lands, etc. How has the progression been like from performing your first shows to huge, sold-out venues?
NC – Wild! Arm pinchy. You know the feeling when you live one of your dreams… You’re both fully aware of your body and also totally outside of it, feeling the gravity of it but also still being you with your normal problems, usually with an extra zit on your face too. It’s been a process of identity in some ways, believing and acting like you belong somewhere big when it seems only a moment ago you were singing in the corner of a pizza shop. You give yourself a moment to look at each other and say “Can you believe this?” Then you square your shoulders, plant your feet, take up your space and resolve to mean every word.
What can we expect to see from Joseph in the future?
NC – We’ll be a lot of places the rest of this year. We’ve been writing lately and I am so excited about what’s coming out. Traveling so much around this beautiful aching world this last year has given us a lot of insider stuff that needs to get out.